Former Super Eagles captain and coach Augustine Eguavoen was in the team that fateful August 12th 1989 when Sam Okwaraji slumped and died. He spoke to aclsports.com’s Chief Football Writer Fisayo Dairo. Emotions are still raw it seems.
Q: What sort of person is Samuel Okwaraji in the dressing room?
A.E: Well, first of all I say may his soul continue to rest in peace. He’s a complete gentleman, he doesn’t make noise and only lets his game speak for itself. When he gets on the field of play, be it training or match situation, there’s no difference.
The attitude he puts up during training is the one he does during game situation. Though he didn’t play too many games before he passed on, that’s the few things I can say about him.
His mentality towards training because prior to that game he was still in Germany, he just moved to Behem in Belgium (I think), before that Angola game so that German mentality was still in him.
Q: After the match when you heard about his death, how did you feel?
A.E: It was sad. It was shocking! We were all still playing in Europe that time and after games like that, we will hang out with our friends before we retire to the bed. Next day we go out to see our families and two days later we are back to our respective clubs.
So that evening when the news came, they called me actually when the news broke up, it was sad. A lot of us retired back to our rooms, woke up calmly the next morning. We were very very sad. There was nothing pleasant about it, we were in a shock mood.
Q: You missed a penalty in the game, your teammate died and there was a stampede after the match. Does this rank as one of your saddest days in football?
A.E: I will say yes. Things happen but it was quite unfortunate and I have it in my diary. It’s a day I will never ever forget.
It was right in front of my position because it was halfway into our own half, a throw-in to us and I had the ball and I was going to throw. And then he was standing, then I wanted to throw the ball but (Samson) Siasia told me, “Austin wait don’t throw that ball yet.”
And then I dropped the ball, walked close to him, myself and Siasia were there, then from a standing position, he was putting both hands on his knees, from that position, he now squatted, then from there he sat on the pitch. It was just a slow death. He was sitting down then he lied down.
And then Siasia and I started calling for help before people rushed in. Siasia’s hand was actually in his mouth but when the physio went there and they put a scissors in between his teeth, that was how Siasia’s hand was able to be pulled out of it.
At the end of the day, the game continued and he was rushed to the hospital but the unfortunate thing that day was that the ambulance they put in didn’t even start. They had to push that ambulance before it could start and then they zoomed off. Only for us to hear later on that he passed off.
Q: What is that thing you will always remember him for being out of the ordinary.
A.E: You know in a group, there must be different people from different backgrounds and they must come together to understand each other. It was really difficult in the beginning but the manager then made us know that one person cannot be smarter than the entire group.
There are rules and regulations. You are free to air your opinion well and his opinion was always spot on. He knew exactly what he wanted but for some reasons, his career was cut short. May his soul continue to rest well.